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Friday, September 16, 2016

Blair Witch (2016) - Horror

Blair Witch (2016) - Originally I was not very excited about this film, the Original The Blair Witch Project (1999) although a real game changer for how small budget horror could be made and marketed, it was not the best of films. Most people remember the tent scene and the final scene in the abandon house but forget that most of that movie is about people lost in the woods making incredibly stupid hiking decisions. They may also forget that in the end we really don't seen anything, nothing about the demise of the characters is shown on screen. I remember being in the Kenmore movie theater when the film opened, obvious a victim of the advertising and the lights came up. I was wondering what all the fuss was about. Sure the film can be a marker for the rise of the found footage era and it made a shit load of money with its clever marketing campaign with the spreading of B roll and creation of the mythology documentary. Still there was something missing from that movie, a villain and I don't mean a villain like the piss poor judgement of the characters. It was missing the killer the one we want to despise and fear, instead there was this origin story but the villain never really materializes.
   I did start getting excited for this film when I saw they (the studio) had brought on the writing, directing team of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard. Barrett a talented, successful writer, if not financially at least with respect to his body of work, Dead Birds (2004), A Horrible Way to Die (2010), You're Next (2011), The Guest (2014) all are good solid films and his writing compelling. Wingard worked with him as director on those last three films mentioned and is a real talent in his own right. I really love both You're Next and The Guest and when I saw the team attached to this project my interest level went way up. So it was with a bit of excitement that I went off to see this film and that my friends does not happen often to this 50+ year old horror veteran.
  Going to the first show of opening day is not the best way to catch the reaction of the general public but it does ensure that a bunch of noisy teens won't be present. The film is definitely being pushed as a big weekend movie, with seven previews before that actual film started rolling. Incarnate , Doctor Strange with Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachael McAdamsOuija: Origin of Evil still looks very entertaining from the previews. Annabelle 2 , Resident Evil: The Final Chapter looks to be just that. I don't know if anyone is still looking forward to those films. If not maybe they will with Resident Evil: A New Beginning. Then there were a couple previews of films the studios feel they really have to sell to make hits. Deepwater Horizon and Hacksaw Ridge the first pisses me off in principle making the second greatest ecological disaster (the Chernobyl disaster is only greater) in the history of the world being turned into a hero story for those responsible for keeping it from happening. Hacksaw Ridge the latest reclamation project for anti-Semitic director Mel Gibson is about a soldier in WWII who refused to carry a gun but saves a bunch of his fellow soldiers to regain respect is Gibson's way to do the same.
  Blair Witch is the sequel to 1999's The Blair Witch Project. In that film a crew of three are making a documentary about the Blair Witch a fabled spirit of Burkittsville MD and her (the Witch) creating a child killer in the same woods years later adding to the story of the forest's bad mojo. They get in the forest and very quickly show their incompetence at navigating through the woods. They can't read a map or use a compass so they are lost before they actually are. Lost and on each others nerves the ante is upped with rock cairns appearing outside their tents and noises in the night.  It was a great bit of myth making back in the day and an amazing buzz creating advertising campaign. It was also an excellent take on what you can do with video by passing big movie making for a more personal hand held approach. Eventually Heather the lead character is alone and find the house where the serial child killer did his work under the witches influence. The ending was tense but you never saw anything it was a whole bunch about creating in the audiences mind what they imagine to happened. That disappointment took away a lot of what was built for that film.
  The new film written by Simon Barrett ups the ante all around and with great effect. The film picks up the story 14 years after the first film. James (James Allen McCune) is the little brother of Heather from the original. He has been haunted by her disappearance when he was just four years old. He has come across a video on the internet that he believes is the last piece of video showing her in the house in the woods outside Burkittsville. Filming him is Lisa (Callie Hernandez) who is doing her school film project on his search for what happened to his sister. His and her mutual interpersonal interest in each other is hinted at but not exercised. This seems a bit of trend as the love interest has become passe in film these days. They with friends Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott) are going to head out to the woods to try to find what they can and maybe James can find peace with his sister's demise. They head out to meet the people who claim to have found the video Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) who proceed to force their way into the adventure. So already we have upped the ante by having twice as many characters as the original film. They are going to show the group where they found the video and James hopes that by doing so he may find some clues of what happened to his sister.
  Upping the ante also means using modern technology on the trip to record the proceedings. We get a exposition laden run down of the gear. Ear cameras, with GPS, a handheld GPS  Cameras, walkie talkies, and a drone camera. No simple map and compass on this trip. No just wandering into the forest and getting lost and throwing away the map. Since the technology is better there also has to be an upgrade in what the woods can do. Sure we are going to get the expected stick figures and rock cairns, and loud noises in the night we also get a forest that creates time shifts and magically nullifies the ability of GPS to work properly. Not only is the forest upgraded but we get a couple characters who are outside the group in Talia and Lane. The story line for them are a nice counter to the supportive groups the four friends are. Without giving anything away let's say the addition of the couple adds a element of uncertainty for the rest of the group. Finally the upping of the ante in the ending where we do get the main thing missing from the first film makes this so much more superior.  Outside of the in story improvements I also enjoyed the improved camera quality of the film. I am a person who feels the found footage film is a bit played out. In particular I feel the purposeful making a shot look shitty so it can be a security camera or whatever is just intolerable in today's age of digital imagery. I am still paying the same price for a ticket so I want the film to look good. This film I think shot in 35mm looks good all the time and is appreciated. I also appreciated the use of not overly popular actors who were all competent but not so recognizable that it was distracting.
  Things in the woods go as you would expect in a Blair Witch film and it is not long before people are hearing noises and losing each other and finding stick figures. Time is lost and the way out can't be found.  The modern technology is suddenly useless with the GPS on the fritz and the drone just as frustrating for the users as it was for the audience. It is used to help in the demise if a character but also we feel the characters frustration that the new toy is not helping. Such is the way with new technology but why have the drone and all the cameras if they are not going to be used in an interesting way to drive the story forward? Literally the drone flew up a couple times but showed nothing that would do anything for the group. When lost it played a small part but other than that the cool factor was all that it was for. So those things all hit the right notes. With an injured friend James, Lisa and the rest are stuck only heading further into trouble with little hope of getting out. At first I was a bit annoyed with the jump scares where a loud noise was used to make the audience jump. Since it was also what was scaring the characters though I just had to let that prejudice slide and just understand we are all in it together. The conflict in the group was a little obvious of a setup with both Talia and Lane being obvious Blair Witch conspiracy theorists. The juxtaposition of having Peter countering the obvious craziness was some good writing.  The classic rain storm at the climax is always so wonderful tension builder. I remember the first time I noticed the technique when watching 12 Angry Men and thought how ingenious it was. Most of all in this film we get the villain and the mythology of the Blair Witch goes to the next level. It is so wonderfully done that the stunted ending of the first film is replaced with an ending that makes a lot more sense, is more intense and pays homage to the original while also improving it.
  This is a film you should go see in the theater. Even if you did not like The Blair Witch Project you will probably like the sequel. It is not the best movie or the scariest but it at least takes the Blair Witch story and does it better than the original. It may be though that too much time has gone by since the first film and maybe audiences are not in the same place at the end of the found footage era than where they were at the beginning. Still get out there and see horror at the movies.  As I have done so far this year; I am doing as an experiment my Twitter account @Soresport is dedicated to following and being followed by people in and behind the scenes. Then I am also hoping some of them follow me back. (Not really expecting that though) It really is an experiment and where I love the horror community it is a way to keep track of what is going on by the people involved in it.  I am now following over 210 people while the followers is only 34 so as you can see people in the biz do not follow just anyone back. :) (Note: Boy do I need an editor when I am rushing new movie reviews out. There were so many mistakes in this but all fixed now I hope.)


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Disappointments Room (2016) Horror

The Disappointments Room (2016) - When this film showed up at my theater this week without any advertising at all I wondered about the quiet launch. Often this lack of promotional money is one of two things, either the studio, in this case Rogue, is hoping early buzz from the few people who wander across the film will make worth their while to sink more cash into it. The other less promising option is that the film did not test particularly well and Rogue just is dumping it on the market trying to recoup some of the fifteen million it spent making it. Seeing that the lead actress Kate Beckinsale is a pretty well known quantity I have to think there might be something wrong with the film. She certainly has been in enough money making features that the studio could have thrown a couple million into promotion on her name alone. This review WILL have spoilers so bear that in mind if you are thinking about seeing this film. I think we all should go out and see horror in the theater this one maybe less than others but don't let me stop you, not every movie moves every person.
  Miss Peregrin's Home for Peculiar Children, Ouija: Origin Of Evil, These first two made sense horror or fantasy previews in a horror movie, then we got The Accountant Ben Affleck as a accountant for the criminals who has real problems socializing, Why Him? A Brian Cranston, James Franco comedy about Cranston's daughter picking a weird irritating man (Franco) to get hitched to and the shenanigans of Cranston trying to stop the ill conceived coupling. Finally the last film was a thriller that looks to be a long car chase in KidNap. Halle Berry stops at nothing when her son is kidnapped and she see the car driving away. Sort of a really mixed bag of previews before a film that was also sort of a mixed bag. So what's the message in those choses the first two are for horror / fantasy people the accountant is certainly for older people, the Why Him? film is all about teens and the last thriller hell its a muddled mess according to the previews.
 So the theater experience: Since I am trying to see more film in the theater lets talk about what that experience was like. maybe there is some insight about the movie by who went and what previews were shown. There was only one other person there when I arrived 10 minutes before the show was to start. Eventually as the previews ran out we were up to 8 people, not totally out of the norm for an early afternoon Saturday showing. Weather has also been particularly wonderful in New England which I am sure had an effect on attendance. All but to of the people seemed to be over fifty with the other couple thirty somethings. Now this is interesting because it may say something about the attractiveness of the name of the film. The young audience is really what the industry is after but the name "The Disappointment Room" may not be appealing to younger people. The previews in order were
  This is a story of a family Dana (Kate Beckinsale), her husband David (Mel Raido) and their son Lucas (Duncan Joiner) who have suffered the tragedy of the death of their infant child Catherine. After that trauma the family near what would have been Catherine's first birthday, is moving from New York City to a giant manor in the fictional Willow Glen North Carolina. This believe this  premise seems so familiar there has to be other films with it. We get the impression from the conversation in the car that most of this move was David's idea. He sold his business is moving the family as a way of distracting Dana at this difficult time of year. He figures that the old place will need a lot of renovation and that former architect Dana can embrace that to stay busy. Certainly he is not thinking that his medicated wife who is still struggling with the death of her child would be better served in the city around friends and neighbors. No to him isolating her in the countryside seems the best route to mental health. Things do not go as planned, of course as we get some imagined black Sheppard prowling around the place.
  Dana really is struggling and we see this through her at first mild and then stronger hallucinations. She also makes a point to stop taking her medication which is never a good for someone having vivid violent visions. Add on top of this her nightmares every night and we have a mentally ill woman with active violent hallucinations, lack of medication, and is not sleeping well, pulled into an isolated setting at a significant date to the child she lost. David pushing the "We'll get through this together." attitude soon decides he has to go back into the city to close his sale deal, leaving Dana and Lucas on their own. Dana starts with seeing lights in the upper part of the house in a room that is not on the blue prints. Investigation shows a room hidden behind a wardrobe and it is not long before she finds out what it is all about.
  Dana's dreams and hallucinations get more scary as time goes on with visions of the rich family that used to own the house,Judge Blacker (Gerald McRaney) the father tall and intimidating with his barking black dog, his feeble wife (Jennifer Leigh Mann) and their facially deformed daughter (Ella Jones) who of course lives in the disappointments room. We over the course of the film learn the story and outcome of having such a child. The problem with this particular set of scares is that the are not really connected to the really big revelation in the climatic scenes. The dog in particular is a convenient tool in creating shock. In fact the whole back story of the disappointments room are strangely constructed around Dana's own more important story. It is like the film could not decide if it was going to be a ghost story or a story about a woman struggling with mental illness brought on by guilt. Sure the imagery of the ghosts were useful for creating some scares, in particular the imagined dog attack on Lucas. Really though none of that was real and just in Dana's head. It brings up the point of why the film makers had the ghosts do things for the benefit of the audience if the ghost are not real. At times the ghosts are seen behind Dana or watching her but since they are in her head why show that? Like when she is looking through the keyhole to the disappointments room and after she leaves we get a shot of an eye appearing in the keyhole. It does not make sense. Even though we know our main character has stopped taking her medication and that the psychological angle is the one the story eventually settles on in the middle we are still more ghost story by the records keeper in town.
   Ms. Judith (Marcia DeRousse) at the town records hall gives us a really awkward bit of exposition explaining what a disappointments room. In the old days when a rich family had a deformed child they would build a disappoints room and lock the child away never to become an embarrassment to the family. She kicks in a bit about vengeful ghost to up the ante a bit too. It would be interesting to see the first few drafts of this script, I would be interested to see if whether it was a ghost story first or a psychological thriller first. Written by Wentworth Miller and directed by D. J. Caruso there are some good things in this film but what it ends up being is a bit of a duel entity where neither story gets the full attention it needs. I say it settled on the mental illness angle and there is a scene where on what would have been Catherine's first birthday, David invites friends Teddy (Michael Landes) and Jules (Michaela Conlin) out for dinner, and Dana slips out of the mansion and heads into town to get drunk. We catch up with her when she returns really late and brings out a birthday cake for her daughter and then proceeds to yell and tear the room up in what is the tour de force scene for the actress and Beckinsale really goes for it too.
  There are a couple things in the film that went nowhere or did not make sense. The primary one was there is this roofer guy Ben (Lucas Till) who is a young man who while coming around to work on the house continually offers himself through slick dialog to Dana. It is never anything but words but for what purpose. To make the main character feel attractive, was there in some draft a relationship? This flirtation happens in every scene they are in together but ultimately that entire sub plot is dropped. Then there is the vanishing child syndrome, where Lucas for large chunks of the film is nowhere to be seen. Sure maybe they have him tucked in bed but we never see any of that parenting. He just vanishes at times so the adults can play out there scenes undisturbed. It was just too noticeable and became a distraction.
  Finally the climax of this film which could have saved it through a punch to the stomach for the audience never got there. We know that Dana is losing her grip on reality and on a dark stormy night the lack of medication and hallucinations of ghost come to a head. She has a fight with the Old Man ghost who says he is going after her son and sics the black dog on her. Paced so that she has to do everything in her power to save little Lucas she fights the dog off eventually snapping its neck. She runs around and around down the mansions spiral staircase trying to catch the mean old man ghost before he suffocates her son. She reaches him as Lucas struggles under the pillow. She hits the ghost and he falls onto the bed. She slams his head with her hammer more and more violently crushing his scull. feathers from the pillow fly, Davis breaks into the house and reaches her and flash, there is no ghost. Did Dana just beat her son's brain in. Oh my what a powerful ending as she killed her other child. but no the film completely pulls that punch what could have saved the film was reduced to she was killing a pillow and Lucas was on the other side of the bed. We finally learn why Catherine died, not a dog mauling, not SIDS but that Dana could not stand her colicky baby and in her postpartum depression suffocated it. After she gets past this there is actually a happy ending where David is taking the family back to the city realizing what a horrible plan coming to the country was in the first place. To finish us off with more muddling of story we see the ghost Dad looking out of the window as they pull away from the house but why?
  That is pretty much and encapsulation of this film disjointed not sure what story it wanted to tell it ends up being Dana's but with too many artifact of the second story that was too ell developed to be put in the background as symptoms of her mental illness.
  As I have done so far this year; I am doing as an experiment my Twitter account @Soresport is dedicated to following and being followed by people in and behind the scenes. Then I am also hoping some of them follow me back. (Not really expecting that though) It really is an experiment and where I love the horror community it is a way to keep track of what is going on by the people involved in it.  I am now following over 200 people while the followers is only 33 so as you can see people in the biz do not follow just anyone back. :) 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Kwaidan (1964) Horror Anthology

Kwaidan (1964) - I am going to borrow and credit this short description from the Criterion Collection which is a very nicely written and the version I watched for this review.
     "After more than a decade of sober political dramas and socially minded period pieces, the great Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi shifted gears dramatically for this rapturously stylized quartet of ghost stories. Featuring colorfully surreal sets and luminous cinematography, these haunting tales of demonic comeuppance and spiritual trials, adapted from writer Lafcadio Hearn’s collections of Japanese folklore, are existentially frightening and meticulously crafted. This version of Kwaidan is the original three-hour cut, never before released in the United States." - Criterion Collection description for Kwaidan
 Toru Takemitsu adds an ambience of sullen e
xpectation. Director Kobayashi paces the pieces with at a confident walk idling every now and again so not to get winded; Modern audience may find it a bit too slow but for this viewer it felt like a lovely stroll.
 Divided into four stories each featuring ghost, The Black Hair, Woman of the Snow, Hoichi the Earless, and In a Cup of Tea, and as the description says the sets are beautiful and the print just looks wonderful. I am a fan of older horror and this collection does not disappoint. Besides the look and feel the minimalist score by
  The Black Hair  -  A story about bad life decisions and the consequences and regrets that come with them. Rentar├┤ Mikuni is a husband who has a wife (Michiyo Aratama) who truly loves him. We join the story as the husband is leaving the wife because they are in such poverty that he feels he must leave and change his luck. His wife of course begs him to stay but his mind is made up. He leaves and takes a posting as a samurai marrying a lords daughter (Misako Watanabe). Ten years pass and over that time he realizes just how shallow and uncaring his second wife is. He is haunted by memories of the woman who really loved him. Finally not being able to deal with the memories he goes back to find his first wife. When he returns to his former house she is there waiting. She is so happy he has returned and he speaks of his regret and that he has learned that she is the one he wants to be with. The embrace and sleep together, as he wakes the next morning he learns that things the night before are not what he though they were. Although he reconciled it is not payment enough. This supernatural ending is satisfying since there really must be some consequence for his action. You can never really sympathize with the samurai since it is a foul thing that he did. So when he is with his second wife you may feel he got what he deserves but really it is not until he returns home that the viewer get the true satisfaction of his first wife's revenge.
  The Woman of the Snow - This is really the only vampire story, but with a twist. Two men collecting wood in the forest are caught in a blizzard and struggle to find shelter. Finally finding a shambled hut near a river the two men fall into it. Still not completely safe they fall into a cold sleep, the younger man wakes to see a woman standing over his older companion. She seems to be sucking the life out of him and then notices the younger man.  Instead of also killing the young man she looks at him as a handsome man and says she will let him live but with one condition; he is never to tell anyone what happened in that shack. He promises and is left alive.We fallow ____ when he meets a woman he falls in love with her. They are seen to have a great life loving each other and she bearing his three children. We get hints as we see his wife pass by some locals and the conversation about how she never seems to age.
  On the New Year he has made new sandals for the family and something about the way his wife looks reminds of the Woman of the Snow. He starts without thinking about it to tell her of his experience in the shack. There are consequences for breaking the promise he made so many years ago and the story explains all this but his life will never be the same.
  Hoichi The Earless is the longest of the stories and has the iconic image of the man covered in Sutras that we see in many images for this film. It starts with the explanation of an ancient battle between the Genji and Heike clans some 700 years before the telling. This great naval battle we learn is being told by Hoichi and we learn more of the battle each time Hoichi speaks of it playing his traditional Japanese instrument the biwa. The present day story features Hoichi as a blind apprentice at a monastery who has become more known for his ability to bring historical stories to life. One night when he is sitting on his porch he hears a voice calling him. He is requested to follow the warrior behind the voice and tell his tale to royalty. Being young and blind he does not know that the person requesting his services is a ghost. The Japanese lore behind this is not that anything good can happen to a person who follows the instruction of a ghost. Instead is madness and possession so the dangers for the young man are great. The story follows the Master trying to figure out where the young man is going and then when he learns protecting him from the dangers of the ghosts.
  While he is under the influence of the spirits Hoichi tells the tale of the Battle of Dan-no-ura one of the greatest sea battles in Japanese history. Hoichi in order to avoid being taken over completely by the ghost is covered with Sutras by the monks of the temple and set to meditate instructed not to speak to the ghosts, not to make any noise at all. Its really a cool take on how spirits interact with the humans in this culture. We have again consequences for interacting with them. It seems in this culture there is always some unwanted side effect when dealing with ghosts. Good story and well played out.
 In A Cup Of Tea -  The final story is about the consequences of  finishing an unfinished tale. We are set up with a man reading such tales and explaining that many Japanese stories stop without an ending. He tells the tale of one such tale it is about a samurai soldier who sees the image of another man as a reflection in the water he is trying to drink. Confused at first he tries several times to get new water but each time he sees the image of the man. The soldier frustrated drinks the water anyway and thinks nothing else of it. Later while on patrol at night the soldier is visited by the ghost from the cup. The ghost is upset that the soldier drank some of his soul in the water and wants some kind of retribution for this act. Instead the soldier draws his sword and engages the ghost who has a knack for disappearing and reappearing. The soldier though frustrated manages to wound the ghost with his sword causing it to vanish. That could have been the end of this unfinished tale but the next night the soldier is visited by three other ghosts who represent the first. 
 Again they want some sort of apology but the soldier is a fighter and would rather settle things with his sword. The fight scenes in this section is really cool but it really is a fight to a draw. We leave this story and and go back to the teller's house where his publisher is visiting and the teller is no where to be found. The ending not spoiled here is yet another instance of consequences around now even the telling of a ghost story.
  This was a very wonderful collection of stories based off Japanese ghost lore that is well done and probably worth every penny it would cost to buy the Criterian collection.